Hundreds of poisonous volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s), like ammonia, benzene, and formaldehyde (the most commonly found toxin in indoor air), can be released into indoor air by furniture, carpets, and building materials. These chemicals are then trapped indoors by the energy-conserving, closed ventilation air temperature regulating systems installed in many homes and offices. The effects on health can range from respiratory and allergic reactions which are collectively called “sick building syndrome”, to asthma, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and neuropsychological problems.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to public health. Since people living in industrialized societies spend 90% of their lifetime indoors, indoor air quality is of significant concern. While “sick building syndrome” reduction strategies such as increased ventilation, and low-emission building materials and furnishings, have been implemented… problems, while lessened, still remain.
While researching breathable environment habitats, Dr. B.C. Wolverton discovered that houseplants are the best air filters of the common air pollutants previously mentioned and others. He discusses the indoor air issue in depth in his book “How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office”. He follows the efforts and findings of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in their research on creating a livable, closed-loop, lunar habitat, in addition to the more recent findings of other organizations, including his own company, Wolverton Environmental Services, Inc. He discusses fifty plants that his own and other research has found to be very efficient at recycling indoor air. His writing style takes a hobbyist approach to his topic, with a general science introduction to plant biology, and by giving the reader a solid understanding of the nature of the fifty plants that he offers as well-suited to the home or office environment. Each plant gets a thorough description, and is rated for its air filtering efficiency for several different pollutants, for its ease of growth and maintenance, for its resistance to insect infestation, and for its transpiration rate. His book is full of photographs and is a very quick and comfortable read for anyone with even the slightest interest in plants and health. Wolverton’s “How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office” is of significant interest to me because I am an ethnobotany major always on the look-out for new plant/people interactions, and also because I am an amateur architect.
Note: I wrote this short book review when I was in college over a decade ago for a class presentation, but it is still very much relevant today.